July 1, 2014

Project Description

Canções Profundas (Deep Songs) is a soundscape composition for field recordings and improvising musicians on the themes of migration, diaspora, memory, identity, and emotional/cultural ties to place, weaving together the journey of Azorean immigrants and my own journey in search of a lost heritage.

Combining elements of narrative, documentary, and folk and experimental musics, the work consists of a vivid multi-layered mix of environmental sounds and music I recorded in the Azores, and occasional electronic processing. An ensemble of musicians modeled on Azorean marching bands improvise in response to the field recordings, and on traditional folk tunes. Beginning with the primal sounds of simmering geothermal pits and ocean waves gurgling in lava tubes, the piece progresses to the natural world of animals, to the human world of agriculture, religious ceremonies, and community celebrations, following whales across the ocean to a distant land where the culture takes root and tenaciously survives, and ending in the cemetery where my ancestors are buried.

Composition, location recording, sound design, electronic processing by Steve Peters
Additional electronic processing by Joshua Parmenter
Instrumental recording, mixing, and mastering by Doug Haire

Rafael Carvalho: viola da terra (Azorean 12-string guitar)
Lesli Dalaba: trumpet
Beth Fleenor: clarinet, bass clarinet
Paul Kikuchi: percussion
Steve Peters: alto saxophone
Naomi Siegel: trombone
Greg Sinibaldi: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet

Sperm whale recordings: William A. Watkins Collection of Marine Mammal Sound Recordings & Data, courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the New Bedford Whaling Museum; and from Kate Stafford, Principal Oceanographer at University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab.

This project was made possible with assistance from an Arts Projects grant from 4Culture (2014) and a GAP grant from Artist Trust (2011). Studio recording made with help from an Artist Support Program residency from Jack Straw Cultural Center.

Historical Background

The Azores are a chain of nine volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic, an isolated region of Portugal with distinct dialects and customs. American whaling ships began arriving in the 18th century, hiring Azorean men as crew. The work was brutal and the pay low, but it offered an escape from hopeless poverty, over-population, famine, and military conscription. Several waves of emigration to North America followed, resulting in the establishment of enclaves in New England, California, Hawaii, and Canada. Azorean immigrants and their descendants in North America now far outnumber the current population of the islands, which is around 250,000. Perceived by outsiders as being generically “Portuguese,” these Azorean communities have to varying degrees maintained their identity, language, cultural traditions, and strong ties to the islands in spite of the pressures of assimilation.

My great-great grandfather Caetano Freitas came to the US from the island of Flores on an American whaling ship in 1865, the year our Civil War ended. We have no idea how many years he had been at sea before he settled on California’s central coast and married Maria Isabel Avellar, also from Flores. Maria died in 1908, Caetano in 1919. They had seven children, and one of their grandsons was my maternal grandfather, Francis – a musician. Sadly, we know little else about them. Their descendants became thoroughly assimilated Americans within two generations.

I briefly visited the islands of Faial and Pico in 2011 and was deeply moved to be in a place and culture that are largely forgotten within my own family, to get a sense of the lives of my ancestors, and to wonder how much of them lives on within me. I spent the next few years doing research and developing this project, returning in 2014 for three weeks (not long enough!) to make field recordings on the islands of São Miguel, Faial, and Flores. In 2015 I made an additional trip to California to record in Avila Beach and at the Festa do Espirito Santo in Sausalito.

Canções Profundas was premiered on September 25 & 26, 2015 at the Good Shepherd Center Chapel in Seattle. The musicians were: Lesli Dalaba, trumpet; Beth Fleenor, clarinets/voice; Paul Kikuchi, percussion; Steve Peters, alto saxophone; Naomi Siegel, trombone; Greg Sinibaldi, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet.

My hope is to tour the work, performing in Portuguese cultural centers in California and New England, and eventually in the Azores.